Thursday, June 29, 2006

UN Gun Control Efforts

Alphecca and Geek with a .45 both have excellent overviews of the recent gun goings-on at the UN. Long story short, yes many elements in the UN want to heavily regulate civilian firearms ownership both nationally and internationally. Fortunately, the US representative to the conference told them where to stick that idea. Good for him.

Economic Growth

Here's a factoid you won't hear on the evening news: economic growth in the first quarter of this year was 5.6 percent. That's really good for an economy still struggling with high commodity prices. We're still only talking a quarter not a year so I suppose we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves.

Death in the Sci-fi Family

Jim Baen has died after a major stroke. David Drake has an obituary.

One thing I didn't realize was that Baen, a former Army private, donated a lot of books to servicemen every year. Soldiers can really use a good book to pass the time while they're hurrying up and waiting.

Lawsuits in the Church

Bringing the courts in to take sides in church governance is a shame and this thread at the Volokh Conspiracy inquiring about precedent law on the subject is just dispiriting to me. Haven't these people read 1 Corinthians 6?
If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother goes to law against another—and this in front of unbelievers!

The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers.
The cases cited just scream "unhealthy church" to me. Struggles over leadership. Absolute unwillingness to compromise. I've been through some rough church splits in my time, but to get the courts involved? Never has it been that bad.

PC Posture

This article on PC posture is worth the read. I occassionally suffer wrist pain and eye strain from working in front of a computer all day. I first thought it was because of something I did, maybe I pulled a muscle playing ultimate or working out. Nope. My arm rests, keyboard, and mouse pad were in the wrong place. It puts strain on my mousing wrist because I had to constantly bend it at odd angles. So I reorganized my desk and bought some better ergonomic stuff. No more pain.

I also have found that if I keep any desktop setup for too long it will create problems. I try to make slight changes on a regular basis just to keep everything fresh and prevent any sort of repetitive motion problems.

HT: Instapundit

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The First Amendment

Mainstream Baptist has been on several big rants in the last week. (Well in truth some of them have been other people's rants that he quoted in their entirety.) Most of his arguments are pretty flawed, but today's really caught my eye:
If religious conservatives succeed in repealing the First Amendment, sooner or later, they will find that their faith becomes discredited by association with scores of the failed policies of their political bedfellows that had nothing to do with their religion.
Repeal the First Amendment? Why in God's name would we ever want to do that? For those don't have it memorized, the relevant part of the First Amendment to the US Constitution reads:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...
The right has never argued for the establishment a state church. We would never argue for it. Creating a state church is creating a monster and we know it just as the founding fathers did.

What the political right argues for is not state run religion. What we argue for is a broader definition of "free exercise" in order to practice our religion in all aspects of our lives. That is something completely different. To state otherwise is just attacking a straw man.

Judging from his commentaries on the growth of American "theocracy," attacking strawmen is about all Dr. Prescott is capable of doing.

The Flag Burning Amendment

I heard commentary similar to this one on the news this morning. An anchor referred the Flag Burning Amendment as "a controversial and possibly unconstitutional amendment." How an amendment to the constitution can be unconstitutional I'll never know...

Oh and just to clarify things, the FBA gives me the willies. I can see some merit in establishing federal regulatory rights over national symbols like the flag, but I can't see any way to reconcile it with free political speech as a whole.

Dang Tootin' I Am!

Turns out I'm a one hunnert percent US citizen, although I did guess on the naturalization question. Take that Michael.

Tales from Foriegn Lands

One of the great things about talking to missionaries and, more importantly, missionaries' kids is that they have great stories. I don't know whether LawDog was an MK or not. I'm thinking not for some reason. But he grew up in Nigeria none the less.

It just seems like you can have more and different fun out there than you can around here. Like building a tiger trap in your back yard under your father's supervision. I can't imagine doing that in my backyard and catching anything.

Happy Monthiversary to Me!

One month since the wedding and one lifetime still to go.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Working Out

Hube highlights the reason I stopped running on local streets: too hot, too humid, and too many cars coming out of nowhere. I need to start working out more regularly though, I haven't really been doing that since the wedding planning hit high gear a couple months ago.

Bringing Military School to You

Joanne Jacobs mentioned a recent AP story about the Troops to Teachers program. The program allows soldiers with college degrees to achieve teacher certifications and gives them additional incentives to teach in difficult areas.

The program has shown itself to be fairly successful. 9000 soldiers have become teachers and their retention rate is far superior to the general teaching population, helping to alleviate the serious shortfall we have in teachers right now. The soldiers are also more ethnically and gender diverse (more men and minorities). Their emphasis on military leadership skills and discipline is a welcome addition as well.

Looking for Distractions?

I highly recommend Jay is Games for free flash-based distractions. Hopefully you will use this revelation wisely instead of spending way too much time playing Dice Wars like I have.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Stupid Stupid Senators

Right, so the US auto industry is in big big trouble. The only domestic brand that might be making money state-side is Chrysler, but they're owned by the Germans now.

With this in mind, why the hell are senator's getting in Detroit's face about fuel economy? Their proposed changes to CAFE will require a total paradigm shift in automobile design and manufacture. They want a 20% increase in passenger vehicle fuel economy. Ending the truck exemptions would require close to a 100% increase in fuel economy across that segment. That means massive investments in R&D. US auto companies don't have money for that sort of thing because they're barely breaking even as it is. Actually they're generally not breaking even at all. Their money is tied up just in (1) building cars people might actually want to buy for a change (2) playing quality catch-up with the japanese (3) trying to keep their union pension plans solvent.

Do you want to destroy the American-owned auto industry? Now is not the damn time.

Purpose Driven Driving: On Ramps

Surprisingly the purpose of on ramps seems to elude some people, Tamara fills them in:
That little strip of concrete or asphalt that connects the surface street to the freeway? That's called the "On Ramp". The purpose of the onramp is to allow your wheezy family bus to chug up to something approaching combat speed so that you can merge safely into the traffic on the freeway, instead of just standing there like a duck in thunder, watching the cars whiz past you.
My mother initially taught me to merge onto a highway by using the on-ramp to find an appropriate space and then accelerating into position with it. Once I began to drive myself I realized that this was not the way to go about things. You get up to roughly traffic speed at the top of the ramp (if possible), then you fit yourself in at the bottom. If you do it this way, then you only need a carlength or two to make the merge. If you go slow then speed up, you need much more space because of the higher speed differential with traffic.

The real pain in the butt is when the guy in front of you doesn't know how to merge. A commenter over at Tamara's place has this to say:
When I can, and I'm not ruining someone else's day, the solution to these goobers is to identify them well before it's critical and SLOW DOWN.

Yes, counterintuitive. But what happens is, you open space between yourself and them and let them booger their way into the traffic flow, and then floor it and merge somewhat normally because they've invariably slowed things down.
Yup this works. Leave space, they merge in and get traffic all tied up. You accelerate into the space you created, merge relatively normally, and you're on your merry way.

Workplace Prayer Requests

The past couple of weeks have been pretty dark for my coworkers. One lost her sister to cancer. It wasn't unexpected but it was sudden. Another was planning her sister's baby shower for Saturday, but the child was stillborn on Thursday night. That was both sudden and unexpected.

Death may be a part of life, but it is rarely a welcome part, especially for our loved ones. Any prayers made on their behalf would certainly be welcome.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Video Blogging

First there was blogging. Then there was podcasting. Now some bloggers like Michelle Malkin and Kim du Toit are putting together video segments. Kim's latest has him going to cowboy action shoot. You'll note how much better he is with a rifle than a pistol.


The no-WMDs cornerstone of the Iraq War debate took a hit yesterday when NGIC (National Ground Intelligence Center) released a very abbreviated unclassified report on the subject. The report mentions 500 munitions containing sarin and mustard gas.

It also explains why they didn't release this information sooner. It seems they were competing with members of the Iraqi insurgency to find and secure these weapons. The insurgents have only used chemical weapons once to my knowledge (a sarin artillery shell used in a roadside bomb) and thankfully they did it poorly.

I wonder how much of this had to do with Zarqawi's death had on these events. Not only did killing Zarqawi take out Al Qaeda in Iraq's leader, but it enabled the military to take out many other upper echelon figures they have been mining for intelligence on his whereabouts.

So this is good news, but of course the fight isn't over.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Flash Multiplayer Fun

Do you remember Scorched Earth or that game with the banana throwing gorillas? Essentially they are artillery duel games. Well Zwok is flash game that is like them, but with 3-on-3 online multiplayer. You can make your own "character" or just press the lazy player button and enjoy. I advise the UK version, because it's in English.


If you missed it, Joe Cathey is blogging from an archeological dig in Israel near the Jordanian border. With pictures!

The pictures are great but his choice of headgear is definitely lacking. He seems to be following the Daniel Jackson school of archeology instead of a more obvious, classic, and cool methodology.

Of course if he went with a fedora he'd inevitably run into Nazis. But I'd rather fight Nazis than space aliens, especially since the local Israelis have a much bigger score to settle with the National Socialists.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Is the Princess Dead Yet?

As a lover fantasy, the current state of the fantasy genre is pretty disappointing to me. Frankly, the genre itself doesn't seem especially fantastic anymore. It seems all the writers are doing one of two things, they're either copying someone else or several someone-elses, they're making fantasy/other genre books, or they're writing massive book series that squeeze every last ounce of life from their worlds.

Thanks to Tycho Brahe for reminding me of Stephen Brust's "Taltos" fantasy crime novels. I read my brother's copy of Teckla a long while back and I enjoyed it. I especially enjoyed how professions like hired killer take on far fewer nasty connotations when you live a world where the dead can be resurrected. I'll have to pick up some of th earlier books in the series to fill the gaps though.

Self Defense Calibers

There is a lot of collected wisdom among shooters. Some of it is even right. LawDog rebuts the conventional wisdom that .25acp is only fit for shooting rodents with the tale of one sad mexican gang member.

Collective wisdom is that if you are going to use a handgun for self-defense against people your best bet is to use calibers between .380 and .45 acp. Some shooters consider .380 a little weak, but it comes in some awfully attractive packages for self defense.

Smaller calibers like .25acp and .32acp are better than throwing rocks, but probably only because it is easier to carry and conceal a small caliber pistol than a large bag of rocks. These calibers are generally lack effective penetration with hollowpoints. Sometimes penetration with hardball is also in doubt. Penetrating the something like the ribcage or the skull might be tricky.

But as LawDogs story points out, if you do intend to use headshots with a small pistol, you might be better off aiming for the other head. I guarantee that the guy will react somehow.

Holy Crap, I Fit!

I took my Mazda to the dealership on Friday. This can be pretty fun because I know just enough about cars that they don't usually try to screw me. I also get to try out various cars on the lot.

I uttered the titular exclamation when I sat in a new Miata. In the old Miata my knees were in the steering column (or dash), my eyes were looking right at top bar on the windshield, and my head was in the ragtop. In the new Miata I had room all around, even with the top up. The new model was darn comfortable, much like the S2000. In pictures the car doesn't look as good as, say, a Solstice. But in person the car is well styled even if the front end isn't quite what I want it to be. I sat in a manual in the showroom and an automatic on the lot. The six speed automatic has paddle shifters and seems to be fairly popular with Miata enthusiasts because it has better highway gearing. The new retractable hardtop version is also quite enticing.

I also received some good advice about the miata from two repeat owners who were looking at the same models. Their advice goes like this:
  • The miata is a back roads carver, not a highway cruiser. On the highway the car is loud and the size differential with trucks can be pretty scary.
  • Mazda adopted a keep it simple design with the car which makes them both fun and very reliable.
  • They recommend it as a second car, not as a daily driver. They leave their Miata in the garage with the top down and drive it on nice days. This is not uncommon for Miata owners.
  • Because this is not uncommon, you should never buy a Miata new. There are tons of older garage-kept Miatas out there with low mileage. Buy one of them used.
Unfortunately the two guys were also quite gay. This doesn't invalidate their advice in any way, but also doesn't invalidate the Miata's reputation as a "chick" car either.

UPDATE: Oh, I also drove around a Chevy Cobalt rental for most of the day. It's a cheap car in every sense of the word. GM should fire all of the interior designers who worked on it and hire new ones. Buy something else.

UPDATE2: Michael is right, the Cobalt does have a nasty blindspot. Whoever designed the side mirrors should also be fired. Something about their shape and curvature makes it really difficult to see vehicles along the side of the car. But hey, the mirror's lines flow nice with the bodywork.

The engine performance was ok and cornering wasn't bad. Not great, but not bad. On par with a similar grade Mazda 3, I rented from the same people earlier this year. But the car itself felt small, which is odd because it's bigger than my Protege by several hundred pounds. Maybe it's something about the roofline? And it was not small in a comfy cozy way like the Miata.

Frankly I was just offended by parts of the car. The interior contained blocks (literally square blocks) of textureless injection molded plastic. It was cheap and boring and soulless and probably the direct result of cost cutting measures at GM. I initially thought this was because of the trim grade of my rental, but I checked with a few of the other higher grade Cobalts on the lot. Nope, the more expensive ones have better paint on the outside, but they're all that cheap on the inside.

UPDATE3: This german site has good pictures of the hardtop MX-5, including the car with the top completely up. I must say it looks pretty good and would be pretty desireable for a daily driver.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Mo' Money, Mo' Problems

One of the great things about a Caribbean cruise is the shopping, the duty free shopping. But after living in Delaware for years, not paying taxes is less remarkable than it used to be. Frankly, I would have rather won an inordinate amount of money with the ten dollars Amy and I spent in the casinos. Gambling winnings made in international waters are duty free too.

Anyway, one of the things we did in foreign lands was buy new watches. Amy bought a cute Swatch number at an appropriately named Swatch kiosk on St. Thomas. I went more upscale on St. Thomas with a Swiss Made Hamilton Khaki Automatic from Diamonds International. No, I didn't pay as much as the linked one.

My watch is an auto-winding mechanical number. Which is great because I'm a mechanical guy. Its spiffiness is enhanced by a crystal on the back of the watch opposite the standard crystal on the watch face. Thanks to the crystal back, you can see the movement moving, springs springing, and the counterweight auto-winding the watch. For a mechanical engineer, this is especially cool. If this thing ever breaks, I am definitely taking it apart with my jewelers loupe and some tweezers.

The great thing about this watch is that I never have to wind it and I never have to change its non-existent battery. The crappy thing is that I have to wear it every day because it is powered by the motion of my body. And since this is a nice watch, I will want to wear something cheaper in situations where it could get beat up or dirty. I want to protect my investment.

Now I could just let it wind down and reset it whenever. I could also just wind it manually on days I didn't wear it. But auto-winding watches aren't really meant to be manually wound. It is a pain to do so. Another solution is to buy an inexpensive watch winder. This spins the watch to keep it wound even if I'm not wearing it. A good watch requires watch support gear I suppose.

I wouldn't have had this problem with a quartz Ventura though.

Talk About Getting Loaded

The greatest tequila bottle ever.

UPDATE: Ok this USB teddy bear is even better.

A Uniform Gone

The Army has decided to drop the Class A green uniform and dress whites. This came out of their current military streamlining process. Instead they will use the already existing Dress Blues. Donald Sensing approves. I'm not so sure.

First the Class A uniform does look dated. Soldiers and airmen I've seen wearing it without the jacket (often with short sleeves) look silly. We don't want service members looking silly unless they're in the Air Force. This explains why so many soldiers wear BDUs everywhere. So yes perhaps phasing the current version out is a good idea.

But I still like the Army in green. The blue uniforms look like they belong in the Navy. I guess I still want the Army to look like it gets in the dirt and works for a living. Yes the Army has traditionally worn blue uniforms, but they haven't done so with a field uniform since the Spanish-American War.

If they wanted to update and streamline the dress uniform, I would have rather gone to a white shirt (instead of the dreaded mint green) and a darker green (like a forest green) instead of the Olive Drab which admittedly looks pretty dated. Then ditch both the Class A and the dress blues in favor of that. Plus a green uniform means they can still wear the black beret with it.

Dang that's Pretty

I really like Lotus's design philosophy. They make cars that are very light with ample but not excessive power. Their vehicles are therefore both spirited in a straight line and usually turn quite well too. And you can probably buy one for less than a corvette. Their new Europa S is no exception. It only has 200 horsepower, but it also only weighs 2200 lbs. And it isn't anywhere near as bug-ugly as the Elise or Exige.

But no it isn't coming to the US. The gas tank is probably in the wrong place or something.

Get Nagged, You'll Live Longer

Or so says an Austrailian study that John Scalzi brought up a few days ago. Left to our own devices single men not only make poor choices like riding motorcycles or drinking excessively, but are in generally poorer health than married counterparts.

So the next time your wife/girlfriend whatever tells you take out the trash, remember she's doing you a favor.

As an aside, I'd like to thank Ben Roethlisberger for further cementing the idea of "no motorcycles ever" into the mind of my lovely wife. And for those who do ride, remember full face helmets are a very good idea. Remember the belt sander test and don't put your faith in the almighty Corona T-shirt.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Sad News in Science Fiction

Jim Baen, founder and publisher of Baen Books, has had a stroke. There are unconfirmed rumors that he may also be in a coma.
Jim Baen single-handedly pulled SF back from the brink of Lit-er-a-choor and back into the gutter where it belonged. By the early 1980’s SF was little more than utopianistic, leftist drivel. By not very good leftists. He has earned the enmity of the SF literati for doing so, but he has dragged the genre kicking and screaming back to a place where Story and Plot still live and have meaning.

Jim is also near single-handedly battling the evil that is DRM. He has sponsored the Baen Free Library and was working with several authors to go to the next step. He has the best e-book business in the genre, perhaps in the entire industry. He has just launched a new SF e-magazine that has the best writers in the business contributing.
While not as well represented on my bookshelf as Del Rey or TOR, I've given Baen Books a lot of money over the years. I did this largely by purchasing every Honor Harrington related product David Weber has ever turned out.

Fortunately for Baen Books lovers, Jim had contingency plans in place to keep the company running if he was ever incapacitated. The company is running fine even if Jim Baen isn't. But I'll be praying for him nevertheless.

Via Instapundit.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Spiderman Unmasked!

As part of the current Civil War story arc in the Marvel Universe, Spiderman has doffed his mask to reveal that he is photographer Peter Parker.
Following a showdown between a group of superheroes and supervillains in which hundreds of innocent civilians are killed, the government passes the Super-Hero Registration Act, requiring all superheroes to reveal their identities and register as "living weapons of mass destruction."

Marvel's roster of invincible crime fighters is split into two bitterly opposed factions, with one camp -- championed by the likes of Spiderman -- in favour of the new law and the other, including Captain America and his ilk, refusing to relinquish anonymity.
What a shoddy story arc

Captain America has already given up his anonymity during his Marvel Knights title a few years ago. He even has conversations with a german girl on an airliner (while out of a costume) about the iconography of his shield and about breaking her grandfathers jaw during the War.

Also while Peter Parker has family and friends that revealing his identity would endanger, Cap has none of that thanks to his status as a man out of time. Granted most of Parker's friends know who he is. He even revealed his secret to Aunt May in an issue JMS wrote a while back. But they're still alive. Most of Cap's friends are either other superheroes who can take care of themselves or are dead.

It all sounds very hackneyed. Which explains why I don't pick up many comics these days.

Via Thinklings.

SBC Happenings

I'm not a Southern Baptist. I actually a little proud to say that, because frankly the Southern Baptist Convention just seems a little too legalistic for me. Make that way too legalistic for me.

Michael Spencer is enumerating the good developments coming out of the convention. The new President, Frank Page, was a rejection of mega-church pastor Ronnie Floyd and involved an overwhelming percentage of the vote. His election also unified voters across the convention's Calvinist/Arminian divide which I consider a good thing. I find that particular debate to be pretty tiresome and a foolish reason for breaking fellowship with another Christian. Of course not everyone seems to think that debate is as trivial as I do.

Ammunition Holy Wars

CBS recently published a story criticizing 5.56 NATO ammunition used in the M16 rifle, M4 carbine, and M249 Squad Automatic Machinegun. Tamara has an excellent rebuttal of their rhetoric. She covers all the bases well.

I'm not incredibly enthused by the M855 ball generally issued to US troops. It was designed for penetration, but I believe it sacrifices terminal effects in order to achieve this. I prefer either the lighter M193 ball used in Vietnam or the heavier 69 grain and 79 grain bullets coming into use with the special forces. Those tumble better and generally have superior wounding capabilities.

But the 5.56mm concept is a good one. It provides much more ammunition capacity for a given combat load and I believe it to have sufficient lethality on the modern battlefield. 7.62mm and larger rounds are not death rays and many of the arguments used against 5.56 are specious at best. I just think the current military implementation of 5.56 is not the best one ever. But that is what we get for copying munitions designs from francophones.

Containing Chavez

Felix over at Colossus is noting that Venezuela's president is becoming more of a dictator every day. At the moment Chavez is stifling dissent in the national media.

Amy and I got to see some evidence of this first hand during our honeymoon cruise. The first two islands we visited on the cruise portion of the trip were Aruba and Curacao. Now these are the southwestern most islands in the carribbean and are Dutch territories. Both are located less than fifty miles off the coast of Venezuela and both have major oil refineries which process Venezuelan crude.

Oddly enough we saw a lot of Dutch military activity on the islands. F-16s were flying over on a regular basis. Tanks were driving around the local roads. The locals said they haven't seen this kind of activity since the end of the second world war. Does this has something to do with the recent Venezuelan military buildup? Could be...

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Eternal Reminders

When I was visiting a church in Cincinnati, we noticed that they had a sign oriented so people would read it when they were leaving the parking lot. It said:
You are now entering the mission field.
Jared at the Thinklings has another such reminder:
People are struggling, hurting, dying. At your work, your church, everywhere you go. In your house.
Show them mercy. Speak grace. Be the Gospel to them, for Christ’s sake.
Or get the heck out of the way.

Under God Day

Not only is it Flag Day, but it is also the 52nd anniversary of "Under God" being added to the Pledge of Allegiance. Celebrate those words while you are still allowed to say them.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Hearing Tests

Your ability to hear high and low frequency sound decreases as you age. I mentioned this before because I could hear some sounds, like a sonic mosquito repeller, that my parents could not.

Ochen K. has put together a suite of audio files to examining the limits of his audio acuity. Using the test files, my hearing seems to drop off between 17k and 18k hertz, which is still pretty good. Teenager repellers operate around 15k hertz so I guess I'm still a kid.

Via Michael Dean.

UPDATE: I tried the upper ranges with different speakers and in different settings that have less background noise. It seems that this can have some influence on your results. Some of the higher frequency mp3 tracks have a tone which I cannot hear, but mp3 artifacting that I can.

Good Gun News

San Francisco's handgun ban has been overturned by the San Francisco County Superior Court. You can thank the NRA for defeating this particular form of tyranny of the majority. I hope that the DC gun ban may some day follow suit.

Home Again

Amybear and I got home early monday morning. So early it is still considered Sunday night by many people. Amy went to work yesterday and I cleaned up the apartment and did massive amounts of laundry. Blogging should pick up shortly.